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+6 votes
by (53.1k points)
edited by
In addressing the topic of anarchist stances on democracy we should make sure to bear in mind two distinctions: states with democratic government vs non-state democratic organizations and direct democracy vs. representative democracy.
Sorry, came across this while randomly browsing.

When you say Democracy, what exactly do you mean?
Do you mean the system of government of elected reperseatives and political parties or the concept of dêmos kratos, people rule as a free and equal assembly or council without leaders?

Sorry, just a bit confused if you mean government democracy or free democracy.
In over ten years of asking if anyone knows the simple distinction between a lynch mob and democracy nobody, not even academics, have given me the correct answer. In fact, over half have admitted they are suspicious of the dictionary and like to make up their own definitions sometimes despite none of them being aware that the common dictionary merely contains popular definitions. My problem with democracy is that, on national scales, it has merely become a synonym for mob rule.

7 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer
a critique of democracy, representative and direct, from audio anarchy:
"So at heart, we are against democracy because its very existence maintains this division that we’re seeking to abolish. Democracy does nothing but maintain the existence of alienated power, since it requires that our desires be separate from our power to act, and any attempts to engage in that system will only serve to reproduce it. Democracies of any type make decisions via elections, the very essence of which transfers one’s will, thought, autonomy, and freedom to an outside power. It makes no difference whether one transfers that power to an elected representative or to an elusive majority. The point is that it’s no longer your own. Democracy has given it to the majority. You have been alienated from your capacity to determine the conditions of your existence in free cooperation with those around you.
"There is an important distinction here. Parties are political in their claim to represent the interests of others. This is a claim to alienated power, because when someone takes power with a claim to represent me, I am separated from my own freedom to act. In this sense, anarchists are anti-political. We are not interested in a different claim to alienated power, in a different leadership, in another form of representation, in a regime change, or in anything that merely shuffles around the makeup of alienated power. Any time someone claims to represent you or to be your liberatory force, that should be a definite red flag. We are anti-political because we are interested in the self-organization of the power of individuals. This tension towards self-organization is completely orthogonal to democracy in any of its various forms."
the full recording is here:
by (53.1k points)
+1 vote
Anarchists are against democracy because it splits a group or community into a majority and a minority, thereby giving some more representation than others (heirarchy). Anarchists usually organize by consensus-decision making. However, there are (few) anarchists who favour some systems of direct democracy.
by (250 points)
your response is meaningless; you have only managed to toss a bunch of vague jargon into a few sentences, opening up a slew of new questions. for example: what is consensus and how is its use opposed to hierarchy? what is direct democracy and how is it different from consensus? how does direct democracy eliminate the separation of groups or communities into majorities and minorities? how does consensus eliminate that? isn't there a problem with representation? does direct democracy include representation? what's a community?
This answer is not so bad. There is a difference here between the "traditional" anarchist response to this question (which I, and wally, have provided, and the one that anarchists are naturally gravitating toward given their tradition). It is this latter position which still remains unclear and which one can only hope LJ and others will sort out for the rest of us.
bob black did a spoken presentation about democracy that i thought was very good, but as far as i know hasn't written it up. perhaps that will still happen. the most i remember of it was about the competitive and gamesmanship nature of the athenian origins of democracy (spokesmen competed by convincing others of their viewpoints).
what is consensus and how is its use opposed to hierarchy?
The vast majority of Anarchists, including the strongholds in Spain and Greece......remember the CNT? They all support a form of direct democracy that is decentralized and based on voluntarily association.....Almost NONE of the classical anarchists or large Anarchist federations support a model where nobody can do anything, both independently OR as a group, until everyone agrees......That is totally inefficient and impractical.

Proudhon advocated for a democratic process that used majority or super majority voting, but the minority could always dissent and it would not be binding......So it was consensus in a since of the word, but most people think consensus means that the group itself cannot act as a moral agent until there is 100% agreement.....and thats fucking impossible, or at least highly unlikely in large groups.

Every single large well organized group usually defaults to super-majority when consensus is not possible.....People shouldnt have to wait for 100% agreement before they have the freedom to act, even as a group....Its just not practical or even what Proudhon/Bakunin/Rocker advocated.
+1 vote
This is a very difficult question to answer, even if it does seem rather obvious to all of us (LJ commented on an answer but didn't provide one himself, where does his priorities lie? -- sadly, of all people on this website right now, he is probably the most apt to provide a good answer). All I can do is recommend you to a really great essay by Malatesta called "Neither Democrats nor Dictators, Anarchists" (found here:

Basically, democracy is a farce. The best it can produce is a government of the majority. What are the problems with a majoritarian government, again Malatesta has some great answers:

That one rejects a majoritarian government doesn't imply that one ought to argue for a minoritarian government. As Malatesta says, "It would be absurd to maintain that one is right because one is in a minority." And yet, isn't this what we find time and time again in Marxist formulas? Take, in the strongest example, Lukac's "standpoint of the proletariat" thesis. No wonder Marxism has produced some of the most authoritarian tendencies known to man.

However, Malatesta takes a very moral stance. This is something anarchists will need to overcome.
by (2.2k points)
+1 vote
Some various thoughts:

Democracy is the majoritarian tyranny that capitalism uses in order to preserve itself. Winston Churchill stated the “old chestnut that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others”.

Democracy is “a violent tyranny by those who define themselves as the authentic people, over those who are excluded from it” (by Andy Robinson, from Democracy vs. Desire - Beyond the Politics of Measure)

It also seems to Robinson that democracy is a “self-policing of capitalism and industrial society - but this is unsurprising, since the “people” after all, are not defined externally to this society but rather are constructed by it.”

Even more it seems that the most important factor is number, thus to Robinson the “majority rule is a subordination of all to the logic of mathematics - the rule of King Abacus.

"Democracy" is impotent against the constraints imposed by economic openness/global capitalism.

Democratization has happened in three main time periods. The first period was in the early nineteenth century, the second being directly after WW II, and the third being in the nineteen eighties and nineties. The third period is the most relevant in that what happened can still be seen in countries through out the world to this day.

After the end of World War II, capitalism found itself in a dangerous situation, with many (especially those in the United States of America [USA]) questioning if capitalism had the strength to compete with the other ideas that were gaining large amounts of strength at the time, such as anarchy(ism), socialism, and communism. The USA found itself in an ideological battle against the alternatives of capitalism and one way to ensure its survival was to create a front of repression and build international institutions that would directly cater to capital’s destructive needs.)

In 1973 only a quarter of the countries in the world had democratically elected governments, by 1993 more than half, and by 2001 there was around seventy five percent.


"Every time an anarchist says, "I believe in democracy," there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead." - JM Barrie (Peter Pan 1928)

"Democracy is a specialised form of political domination deployed as a universal objective value, it is set in place as a political end or ideal for society by an elite whose real power over society is not political at all but is grounded in an all-pervasive economics exploitation."

- both above quotes from Monsieur Dupont in Democracy Demo


"There are (we’re told) over six billion humans alive on this planet, each of us with a different idea of how, why and whether to save it - of how, why and whether to save ourselves (individually and/or collectively) six billion different notions of who we are, six billion modes of expressing it. That’s scary! The space we’re in now is crowded; the music unfamiliar - a bit ominous, a little sleazy, at times manic but captivating, intense and ever-changing. And we still might (or might never, after all) learn whether we can all be partners.

But we’re still dancing...."

- from Beyond Exclusion - Democracy and an Anarchist Ethic by Mitchell Halberstadt

My recommendation for anyone interested in democracy and anarchist ideas is to read the entire issue of "Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed" #60, which has four very intriguing articles about these subjects.

(small side note: if you don't have this issue on hand, it should be up shortly on the anarchist library, i will drop a note here when it is if that's cool)
by (1.3k points)
edited by
dude, that was winston churchill, not ward churchill...
lawrence, thank you - i'm not sure what i was thinking there...
"small side note: if you don't have this issue on hand, it should be up shortly on the anarchist library, i will drop a note here when it is if that's cool"

Yeah, that'd be cool. Don't forget!
FYI: the entire issue of AJODA #60, regarding democracy is now online.... here are the links:

Democracy vs Desire: Beyond the Politics of Measure by Andy Robinson

Democracy Demo by Monsieur Dupont

Beyond Exclusion: Democracy and an Anarchist Ethic by Mitchell Halberstadt

Democracy and Conspiracy: Overlaps, Parallels, and Standard Operating Procedures by Lawrence Jarach
+2 votes
In a dictatorship, the dictator or oligarchy or whatever decides what's to be done. Those who disagree are usually shot or imprisoned.

In a democracy, career politicians go through some process which is supposed to suss out the will of the people. Regardless of the "purity" of this process, deals are eventually brokered, taxes are collected, laws are drafted, bureacracies created, and so forth. Those who refuse to go along with all of this are usually shot or imprisoned.
by (580 points)
–2 votes
Anarchists are NOT against all forms of Democracy. There are some forms of democracy that are favorable to Anarchists, and some forms that promote hierarchy or oppression.

There are two types of Democracy Anarchists are against.

1. Republicanism, because minority rule is worse than majority rule usually. Republicanism proposes giving power to an elite to create law and to protect the wealth of the powerful from the majority who are poor. This sucks.

2. Anarchists oppose democratic centralism, even when its direct democracy, because it does not respect autonomy and the freedom to disassociate.

Anarchists SUPPORT two types of Democracy.

1. Consensus...All parties agree voluntarily and by association....However, this has severe limits and usually in larger groups they must refer to option 2 instead.

2. Consensual Participatory democracy....In this second type of consent based democracy it is not mandatory that all parties agree on everything. People DONT have the power to individually block...However, democracy is by majority, plurality, or super-majority depending on the type of issue.....Its based on consensual consensus among a voluntarily association to defer to super-majority or majoritarian decision making when pure consensus is not reached.....but its still egalitarian, voluntary, and not imposed on minorities unless they voluntarily associate.

The first type is best for tiny groups of close friends and family. The second type is practical for anything larger than a typical household.
by (200 points)
a) i'm interested in how you're defining democracy, if consensus fits into your definition.
b) also, to say "anarchists are not against all forms of democracy" is misleading, since some anarchists are against all forms of democracy. i know it's easy to get into speaking for everybody, but especially around controversial topics it's good to be more specific. perhaps my question should have been clearer also ("what do some anarchists have against democracy?" for example)...
c) there are definitely large groups of people (not western-civilized ones, i guess) who make decisions by a non-western form of consensus, despite the time that it takes to come to such a decision. so your "must refer to option 2" is definitely an overstatement.
d) i question the viability of any kind of democracy, including your "consensual participatory democracy", perhaps because i don't know what it means to impose on minorities when they voluntarily associate, or because i reject that democracy can ever mean having a complex decision making process that is more than just binary in its solutions, or perhaps because "consensual consensus" aggravates me to distraction. or maybe for some other reasons.
lol...Proudhon supported consensual participatory democracy, not consensus. Bakunin supported consensual participatory democracy, not strict consensus. Rudolph Rocker supported consensual participatory democracy, not strict consensus....The vast majority of the classical Anarchists supported a form of democracy that was majoritarian but that was not binding on the minority.....A minority could not "block" like they can in consensus, but nor could a majority inflict majority rule on an unwilling population......Majority decisions could only be applied to those who associated voluntarily, so it was consensual, but what is typically called "consensus" where one or two people can block an entire action holding back an entire group.....Almost none of the classical Anarchists advocated such a thing. None. Some modern Anarchists who havnt bothered to read Proudhon or Bakunin in depth are under the wrong impression if they think a significant number of the original Anarchists supported the idea of one person being able to block the majority will....Proudhon would consider that tyranny if the majority was held back by a few people who associate as a collective.

Democracy ONLY means "rule by the people". Democracy does NOT mean majority rule. The root of the word is "demos" which means people. Anarchists want the people to rule themselves, so that means they support "democracy".

What Anarchists typically oppose is democratic centralism, or democracy which is imposed involuntarily.

So consensual democracy is not majoritarian in the sense that it can be imposed on the unwilling, but nor is it whats typically called "consensus" where a group cant act until everyone agrees.....that model of consensus democracy "consensus" is inefficient and not even what the original Anarchists were advocating.

Sure, I cant speak for everyone, but the model of democracy advocated by Proudhon (Remember that he uses contradictions to make points, like with how Property was both freedom and robbery.....He was against what was called democracy in his time, but he still advocated a form of democratic process, and Bakunin says he is against "democracy" because it wasnt democratic ENOUGH!!!)......So I have the vast majority of the classical Anarchists on my side here, and I actually read them, but you are correct that there may some who are a little more Godwinian and would oppose the idea of people voluntarily using a majority system that is non-binding on the minority.....but I dont think its that common.
"Anarchists want the people to rule themselves, so that means they support "democracy"."

this might seem like too precious of an argument, but i would reject that statement. i don't want people to "rule themselves". i want no rulers. much as the roe v wade decision was fucked up because it argued for bodies as property (even if the property of ourselves), so does the concept of us "ruling ourselves" cede too much to current paradigms.
for a (semi-humorous) overstatement in the interest of demonstrating my point: i am not monitoring myself, whipping stick in hand, ready for me to step out of line at any moment...
there is an alienation inherent in the idea that we rule ourselves. i say to thee, nay.
You dont think we should rule ourselves? lol. You think we should flop about, ruled by impulse, without any application of will (free or otherwise)? I think thats bullshit.

The problem here is that people think that democracy must necessarily mean majority rule. It does not.....Or if it does mean that a majority can choose something, that is fine as long as its non-binding on any minority who does not choose to agree.

Democracy means 'rule by the people'. It does not mean majority rule. it does not mean electing representatives. It does not even mean voting. It means 'rule by the people'.....Consensus is a form of 'rule by the people'. Consensus is not what Proudhon advocated though. Proudhon advocated majority rule inside of free and voluntary collectives, but in a way that were completely non-binding on the minority......So its not majority rule in the sense that the majority can force a minority to participate, but an Anarchist union like the IWW can and DOES vote internally.
" Anarchist union like the IWW..."

The IWW (Wobblies) is not an Anarchist union. Its syndicalist (not even Anarcho-Syndicalist.) It was co-founded by Marxists and, till this day, Marxists make up an important part of the IWW.
0 votes
1) Majority typically rules over the minority without the same consideration and choice of conscience or free-will.  denying them the choice by personal conviction or circumstantial conditions?   

2) No input in voting process and what is being voted on.  Also there is no true choice for it is based on limited and extreme outcome without moderation,  other options or qualifiers.  A multiply list of choices on issues could be developed then the voted top three are applied where isolated personal choices are to be left to the choice of those it concerns.  

3) Democracy at its best is: people wanting to place their own values and rules on everyone else, rather than to want the same respect and value of everyone's personal preference and conviction.
by (2.0k points)